Showing posts with label lunch. Show all posts
Showing posts with label lunch. Show all posts


Rediscovering the "De-chained" CPK and Loving It

Ever since I moved to NYC, I've had a very strong aversion to chain restaurants. Why should I eat at a place that I can eat at anywhere in the country when I have the best restaurants in the world mere footsteps away?, I thought. 

However, California Pizza Kitchen has always had a special place in my heart as it used to be the go-to birthday spot when I was a kid growing up in Los Angeles. I always knew about the CPK, as it's affectionately known, at 30th Street and Park Avenue, but have never been nostalgic enough to visit during my almost 7-year NYC tenure. But that all changes now.

California Pizza Kitchen NYC

Monday night I had the opportunity to visit CPK--the only location in Manhattan (so is it really a chain? Haha!)--as they celebrated their 30th anniversary and their new mission to "dechain the chain."

I first got a tour of the newly redecorated space, featuring a chalkboard and a wall of herbs at the entrance, reclaimed wood table tops, and scenic NYC photos adorning the walls. The space already feels more welcoming than your typical, cookie-cutter franchise.

Next, I was given an apron and whisked into the kitchen with Head Chef Brian Sullivan (who developed the iconic BBQ Chicken Pizza more than 20 years ago!) and NYC pizza chef Juan who both taught me how to make a pizza and (here's the best part) TOSS THE DOUGH! My first attempt ended up with me breaking holes in the dough, but try number 2 got some serious air and I transformed it into CPK's Wild Mushroom Pizza ($13.49) with 5 different types of mushrooms, 3 cheeses, garlic, and scallions. Yum!

Stretching pizza dough at CPK
Juan teaching me to stretch the dough
Tossing pizza dough at CPK
Oops! Popped some holes!
Tossing pizza dough at CPK
That's a winner!
My Wild Mushroom Pizza
My Wild Mushroom Pizza
At this point, I was finding flour in my hair and covering my arms--tis' the life of a pizza arteest!--but I was having a blast. Then I sat down with CPK CEO G.J. Hart, one of the nicest people I've ever met, who along with Chef Brian walked me through some of the new menu items and cocktails.

The first drink I tried, my favorite of the evening, was the California Roots, a Svedka vodka concoction with muddled avocado, mint, and agave sour rimmed with fennel salt. Talk about unusual! I also tried G.J.'s creation, The Executive Decision, which has Casamigos tequila blanco, muddled mint, fresh agave sour, Monin organic agave nectar and fresh lime, and I thought it was like vacation in a glass. Lastly, I sampled the Blueberry Ginger Smash, which cleverly mixes Jack Daniels with agave nectar, Domaine de Canton ginger, fresh blueberries and lime and cranberry juice into a delightful fruity libation. I told G.J. I could see these drinks going for upwards of $16 at some Manhattan hot spots, but he told me the price point was about half that depending on which CPK you were visiting!

California Roots cocktail
California Roots
The Executive Decision cocktail
The Executive Decision
Blueberry Ginger Smash
Blueberry Ginger Smash

Next, the food! Delicious, delicious food! When I used to come to CPK as a kid, I would always reliably order the BBQ Chicken Pizza. While the old classic is still on the menu, the items that surround it are new, improved, and focused on seasonal ingredients. Case in point, the California Fields Salad (half $9.99, full $13.49) is comprised of gorgeous field greens with fresh watermelon, sweet strawberries, feta, and California pistachios, topped with a housemade Champagne vinaigrette.

California Fields Salad
California Fields Salad

I also tried the new Maine Lobster Flatbread ($10.99), a wonderful dish for sharing, it features real Maine lobster meat, mayo, fresh herbs, arugula, and shaved red onions on a parmesan flatbread. It's like a pizza version of a lobster roll, and I LOVE lobster rolls.

Maine Lobster Flatbread
Maine Lobster Flatbread

For main entrees, I sampled the Tricolore Salad Pizza ($12.99), which is a salad lover's dream! It features a different take on the crust--caramelized honey and parmesan lend it to be thinner and crispier--cooked and then topped with field greens, tomatoes, and shaved parmesan tossed with housemade Dijon balsalmic vinaigrette.

Tricolore Salad Pizza
Tricolore Salad Pizza
I also had a clever take on a gluttonous dish, their Shrimp Scampi Zucchini ($14.79), which had half regular pasta and half noodles made from zucchini (aka: zoodles!) sauteed with lemon, garlic, and white wine. This entire dish is only 470 calories!

Shrimp Scampi Zucchini
Shrimp Scampi Zucchini

Lastly, my favorite entree of the night was the Hearth-Roasted Halibut ($23.79) served over grilled asparagus and butternut squash farro and baby kale. I could eat this morning, noon, and night, and it's a good thing too because the size of the piece of fish they give you is ginormous! Definitely enough for 2 meals for me. And the farro adds a truly unique touch.

Hearth-Roasted Halibut
Hearth-Roasted Halibut
Of course they didn't let me skip out on dessert, and neither should you. Both the salted caramel pudding ($4.99) served with black cocoa cookie crumbs, whipped cream, and sea salt and the Butter Cake ($6.79) served with ice cream and whipped cream are decadent options to end your meal.

Salted Caramel Pudding
Salted Caramel Pudding
Butter Cake
Butter Cake
I go to a lot of restaurant events, and I must say the hospitality I received at CPK was top notch. You could tell the people who work there enjoy the company for more than the fact that it gives them a paycheck--there's true passion behind the food and drink. Their prices are also fabulous! Lunch specials range from $9-11 from M-F, 1-4pm, and they also have happy hour specials.

Me with CPK's head chef and CEO
From Left: Head Chef Brian Sullivan, me, and CEO G.J. Hart

G.J. also told me that CPK is committed to the communities they operate in, offering fundraising events as often as they can. They are also relaunching their grocery store branded items, so keep an eye out for those in the coming months. I also took home a copy of the CPK cookbook, so maybe I'll be trying some of their creations for my next dinner party!

The CPK Cookbook
The CPK Cookbook
CPK Cookbook inscription
Love the inscription!

It's official, I've been converted (partially) back to the chain. CPK, you have thoroughly impressed me and I'll be singing your praises for a long while.

Disclosure: CPK hosted me for this event and paid for my food, but all opinions are my own.

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Get Your Greek On at Eons

The Chipotle model has obviously proven so successful for Mexican food, so it's no surprise we've seen numerous other cuisines steal the build-it-yourself meal restaurant and make it their own. The Greeks have done it this time with Eons in Murray Hill (633 Second Ave @ 34th Street) and it's bound to be your new go-to for fresh, flavorful food.

Eons Greek

Walking in, you get the view similar to what you seen in Chipotle--a line of people waiting to choose their base (here you get you meal served as a pita, over rice, or over salad), protein (chicken, pork, shrimp, octopus, steak, lamb, salmon, or veggies), and toppings (tzadziki, garlic spread, feta spread, eggplant, humus, or something called lado sauce). Then you can choose from a variety of veggies and condiments to top off your meal.

We met the owner Anoush and she sweetly walked us through our options and made some recommendations.

Eons Greek counter and menu

Anoush making my lunch
Anoush making my lunch
More proteins!
More proteins!
Prices range from $7-$15 (with octopus by far being the most expensive). I opted for salmon over rice and have been craving it for lunch ever since! The fish is super flavorful and you can tell that it hasn't been sitting there for days just waiting to be served. The tomatoes which topped my bowl were some of the reddest I've ever seen and I would definitely recommend you not skip the lentils! Also they serve Boylan's sodas, so Eons officially gets 2 thumbs up.

Anoush also brought us a sample of Eons' spreads. The humus was, well, not my favorite, but all the others were great, especially the garlic spread! Mmmmm. No vampires here!

A spread of spreads
A spread of spreads
Our lunches
Our lunches
If you live or work in the area, Eons would be a great place to pick up lunch or dinner. And if you're anything like me, you'll even have leftovers! Don't be afraid to splurge for bigger ticket items like the salmon because they are fresh and definitely worth the few extra bucks.

Click to add a blog post for Eon's Greek Food For Life on Zomato


AWESOME DEAL: Pay What You Wish at Just Salad Today

Wallet feeling kind of light? (Or even kind of heavy?) Just Salad, a fast casual restaurant concept serving healthy food--including, yes, salad--at 315 Park Ave South is allowing customers to pay what they wish for any salad or wrap at both lunch (12-1:30pm) and dinner (6-7:30pm) today 4/9.

All proceeds from the event will be donated to the Food Bank For NYC. Limit 1 wrap or salad (valued up to $10) per person and in-store only.


Meet the Indian "Chipotle" Now Open in the Theater District

I'll be the first to admit that having Indian food for lunch often sounds unappealing simply because it's hard to return to my desk and work after a rich, filling, often spicy meal served from an all-you-can-eat buffet. Ironic because I LOVE Indian food. So when I heard about the new fast casual Indian restaurant Chutney Kitchen, which opened up shop in Hell's Kitchen in February, I couldn't wait to try it.

Chutney Kitchen is the brainchild of former finance 9-5'er Silu Sao and her friend since grade school, Pankaj Amin. One morning Sao's 8-year-old daughter asked her why she was working in finance when all she loved was to cook. That week she quit her hedge fund job and enrolled in culinary school. After 2 years of creating recipes reflecting the fresh, high-quality Indian food she likes to eat at home, Sao opened the restaurant with Amin with the goal of providing a light alternative to this cuisine especially geared toward those with special dietary needs like vegetarians and those who eat gluten-free.

The way it works is very much like Chipotle. You choose a base--roti wrap (like a burrito), naan tacos, salad greens, rice bowl, or chaat bowl (garbanzo beans and potatoes)--and then a fill:
  • Charbroiled chicken marinated in yogurt and spices ($8.95)
  • Pulled pork simmered with tangy spices ($8.95)
  • Shredded steak marinated in ginger, garlic and chilies ($9.95)
  • Pan-seared potatoes seared with tumeric, cumin and onions ($7.95)
  • Farmer's cheese (Paneer) sauteed with a 5-spice blend ($8.95)
  • Lentils (Daal) stewed with onions and spices ($7.95)

You can then choose flavors including warm sauces (coconut cashew, tikka, or vindaloo), cold chutneys (date, yogurt, cilantro, or mirchi), and salad dressings (lemon cumin and spicy mango).

If you can't make up your mind (or are just overwhelmed by choices), Chutney Kitchen has some suggestions including the Viva Las Vegas (naan tacos with pulled pork, vindaloo, carrots & cabbage, pickled onions and yogurt and mirchi chutneys) and the Lucy Goosey (Chaat bowl with cucumber and tomatoes, chickpea crunch, and date, yogurt and cilantro chutneys).

I opted for the shredded steak chaat bowl with tikka sauce, carrots & cabbage, corn, chickpea crunch, and yogurt chutney washed down with an Aranciata San Pellegrino. The bowl was enough food for 2 meals for me, which I really appreciated. It was flavorful, yet slightly spicier than I expected. If you don't like spicy, make sure to let the person preparing your food know and they'll steer you clear of anything you won't like.

Other intriguing items on the menu include masala fries ($2.50), hot street chai ($3.50), and mango smoothies ($3.50). The only thing missing was dessert--I would love to see Sao's take on gulab jamun!

Full disclosure: I received a free meal from Chutney Kitchen but the opinions presented here are 100% my own.


You Deserve More than a Boring Lunch

I don't know about you, but I get in the habit of being too busy at work to grab more than a boring salad or sandwich from the deli downstairs. Now that the weather is starting to get a bit (*fingers crossed*) nicer, I'm more inclined to want to walk more than 15 steps from my office building. So when the trusty lunch chain Pret A Manger contacted me to sample their new hot menu items (all under 500 calories), I was all in!

My go-tos at Pret have always been the egg salad and arugula sandwich and the almond croissants, and I've always loved their "Made today, gone today" motto--donating all their leftovers to City Harvest daily.

But on my last visit, I tried one of the new Hot Pots--Korean BBQ Pulled Pork to be exact, with only 460 calories. I loved it! It is made with antibiotic-free pork simmered in a sweet & savory sauce with red peppers, honey, ginger, garlic, and cilantro on a bed of red rice and quinoa. It comes with a fresh-made roll and I washed it all down with Pret's strawberry lemonade. Refreshing!

On another visit, I went with the new Spinach and Tomato Mac 'n Cheese and brought it back to my desk. Who ever heard of mac 'n cheese for only 420 calories!? And it was super creamy. I didn't feel like I was missing out at all. FYI, this item is fully vegetarian, but they also have a version with crispy bacon with only 470 calories. On this visit, I also tried Pret's blood orange seltzer.

So if you've never been to Pret, or just haven't been in a while (they're especially easy to find around Midtown), it's high time to check them out again and try one of the new menu items. You're right on track to never have a boring lunch again!

Editor's Note: Pret provided me with complimentary food for the purposes of writing this post but all opinions are my own.


Between the Bread: A New Favorite Midtown Lunch Spot

Last week I was invited with my coworker Stephanie to try the Midtown lunch hotspot and catering company Between the Bread. We arrived to a bustling storefront of hungry workers on their lunch breaks hankering for a plateful of healthy, fresh, local fare.

On the menu were a wide array of sandwiches ($7.95-$8.95), salads ($2.95-$4.50), soups ($3.50-$5) and entree portions of chicken, shrimp, or fish, each served with 2 sides ($9.95-$13.95). Menu items change on a daily basis so you'll never get bored eating here.

Sandwich selection
Entrees of the day

I tried the herb salmon with Parmesan roasted cauliflower and grilled veggies while Stephanie had the grilled chicken with fennel green bean and potato salad and tomato salad. First off, the portions were GINORMOUS. My plate was definitely enough for two meals, which makes it a great value. Also, everything was super delicious, yet healthy. I could have eaten a plateful of that cauliflower alone and I really liked the wide array of grilled vegetables, including beets and sweet potato on top of squash and bell peppers.

There really isn't a place to eat inside the restaurant, but we took our food down the street to an outdoor pavillion (yay almost Spring!) and enjoyed our lunch al fresco. I definitely want to come back to try Between the Bread's other entrees and their baked goods. Yum!

Between the Bread on Urbanspoon


Screw the Cold! Order Delivery and Get Free Stuff!

I have to admit, I don't order food for delivery that often. My philosophy is if I'm going to spend money on food from a restaurant, I'd rather make a night of it and enjoy the ambiance. However, on frigid days like today (and on lazy, especially rainy days) I make an exception.

So what did I want for lunch, I thought to myself at about 10:45 this morning when my stomach began to rumble. I could be like everyone else and use Seamless, but instead I opted to go with, and I'll tell you why. The basic concept is the same--login, pick a cuisine, add your items to your cart, list any special instructions, hand over your credit card info and the rights to your soul, and soon food will be delivered right to you without you ever having to interact with a human being (with the exception of the delivery person of course). However, is a smaller operation compared with Seamless and hence offers more perks to try and lure new customers.

For example, instead of choosing a cuisine first, I entered my office address and opted to sort the available delivery choices by discount. Low and behold there were 6 different restaurants that offered a 25% off deal for your first order. Score! I decided to order from Marrakesh because I was in the mood for hummus and I could get a shish kebab combo platter for $12.95 (includes a garden salad or rice, 2 pieces of pita, and 2 vegetarian sides including hummus, grape leaves, falafel, etc.).

Nothing surprising so far, BUT not only did I get my food and my 25% off discount, but I also received 316 loyalty points and one stamp on my loyalty card. Basically, the points can be redeemed for anything from a $5 charity donation (10,000 points) to a $50 iTunes card (125,000 points) to an 11 inch Macbook Air (1,380,000 - you have to order A LOT of delivery for this guy but I guess it's incentive to take the office's lunch orders!). In addition, you get one "punch" for every order and a $5 credit for each 10 orders no matter how much you spend.

There are other ways of earning points as well. You get 1,000 just for signing up, plus 1,000 more for each friend you invite to So what are you waiting for? Start making your delivery dinner plans for the rest of this awful freaking cold week!